Need For Speed: Most Wanted preview – Gameplay is king

“We believe games are better with friends,” says Need for Speed: Most Wanted executive producer Matt Webster.

There’s no other way to put it: Criterion Games has created the sequel to Burnout Paradise that we all wanted, albeit with a different name. As was unveiled during EA’s press briefing, Most Wanted is the developer’s latest racing title. It is, by Webster’s admission, not a sequel to 2005’s racer of the same name, but a reimagining, not unlike 2010’s reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. And by “reimagining,” we think Webster means “updating Burnout Paradise’s best features for a more socially connected age.”

We dove right into a twenty minute presentation, followed by hands-on, and what we saw and played easily rises to the top of our favorite games of the show. With Hot Pursuit, Criterion introduced Autolog, a heavily friends list-centric approach to competitive multiplayer. It provided some fantastic opportunities to create great rivalries with pals, plus other EA games, such as SSX, began adopting its elements for their own approaches to asynchronous multiplayer. And now, with Most Wanted, Criterion is upping the stakes with a new incarnation.

Whereas Hot Pursuit offered up competition for racing, Most Wanted lets you rack up high scores for speed cameras (which track how heavily you’ve violated city ordinances), big jumps, busted security gates, and the perennial Burnout favorite, road signs. You’ll also rack up speed points – Most Wanted’s in-game XP used for topping leaderboards – for finding cooldown spots, which are good hiding areas to beat the heat as the cops are chasing you down. The more of these elements that you break, discover, bust, or beat within the game’s open world, the more highly you’ll lord over friends. Autolog 2.0 will also introduce a new recommendation system, which allows you to see in-game elements that, based on your stats, you ought to be trying for, as well as potential new buddies that you should add to your friends list for competition.

But it’s the gameplay that’s king. Most Wanted contains the trappings that made Burnout one of the finest racing series of the last decade, from the gorgeous look of its vehicles to immediately intuitive handling. In true trademark Criterion fashion, a tap of the brake provides better drifts and momentum than a slam on the e-brake. It’s immediately graspable, though some of the visual cues for race checkpoints felt a little disorienting at first (and we lost a race thinking that we could use a shortcut along the path to get ahead, but the checkpoint was strict).

That gameplay works wonderfully for multiplayer as well. Criterion has borrowed the tag system from the Battlefield games to allow you to use license plates to identify yourself to others (and to see the plate of who smashed you and cost you first place). As you play with others, you’ll see an alert on the map, as well as a laser projection on the horizon, of meeting points to start races. We tried out modes ranging from traditional races (which, if you finish early, you can flip a 180 and try to wreak havoc on latecomers) to jump contests in which you’ll have to speed up a hill, get the most hangtime, and keep the high score over two minutes. Oh, and once you wreck, you’re out of the running. There are more than enough wrinkles to traditional racing to raise the stakes here.

We’re looking forward to getting more hands-on time with Need for Speed: Most Wanted soon. Fortunately, amidst a number of projected 2013 releases on display this week, you can look forward to sacrificing numerous hours online come October 30th.

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